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Scientists supercharge shellfish to fight vitamin deficiency

Experts at the University of Cambridge have discovered a new way to supercharge shellfish with nutrients in an effort to address the widespread issue of vitamin deficiency in humans.

The researchers are currently working with major seafood manufacturers to test their new method of fortification.

Worldwide, more than two billion people suffer from vitamin deficiency, which can lead to a number of serious health issues. 

Dr. David Aldridge and PhD student David Willer have produced the world’s first microcapsule that is specially designed to deliver nutrients to bivalves, including mussels, clams, and oysters, which are important sustainable sources of proteins. The “vitamin bullets” are being manufactured under patent by Dr. Aldridge’s company, BioBullets.

Bivalve shellfish serve as ideal candidates for fortification. This is because they are consumed in their entirely, including the nutrients available in their guts.

The scientists found that oysters enhanced with micronutrients delivered around 100 times more Vitamin A and over 150 times more Vitamin D than natural oysters. 

The fortified oysters outperformed salmon, one of the best natural sources of these vitamins. The supercharged oysters delivered more than 26 times the Vitamin A and more than 4 times the Vitamin D provided by salmon. 

The study revealed that just two supercharged shellfish provided enough Vitamin A and D to meet human Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDAs).

Vitamin A and D deficiencies are both responsible for major public health crises. In Ghana, more than 76 percent of children are Vitamin A deficient, putting them at a higher risk of blindness and death. In India, 85 percent of the population is lacking in Vitamin D, which causes cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and rickets. 

“We have demonstrated a cheap and effective way to get micronutrients into a sustainable and delicious source of protein,” said Willer. “Targeted use of this technology in regions worst affected by nutrient deficiencies, using carefully selected bivalve species and micronutrients, could help improve the health of millions, while also reducing the harm that meat production is doing to the environment.”

Bivalves have higher protein content than beef and serve as a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and other key nutrients. Shellfish are also highly sustainable to farm, with a much lower environmental impact compared to farming other fish and animals. 

Bivalves are highly affordable, and the researchers calculated that fortification adds just $0.0056 to the cost of producing a single oyster.

“We are very excited about BioBullets’ potential,” said Dr. Aldridge. “We are now establishing links with some of the world’s biggest seafood manufacturers to drive a step change in the sustainability and nutritional value of the seafood that we consume.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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